News and Commentary

Former Clinton Strategist: ‘Cohen’s Plea Deal Is Prosecutor’s Attempt To Set Up Trump’

Mark Penn, the former chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run and former advisor to President Bill Clinton, claims that Michael Cohen’s plea deal is the prosecutors’ “attempt to set up Trump.”

Penn made this claim in an Op-Ed in The Hill where he claims that the campaign finance violations that Cohen pleaded guilty to on Tuesday “were not campaign finance violations.”

“Money paid to people who come out of the woodwork and shake down people under threat of revealing bad sexual stories are not legitimate campaign expenditures,” he says. “They are personal expenditures. That is true for both candidates we like and candidates we don’t.”

He claims that if candidates used campaign funds instead of their own money to pay folks like Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about affairs, they would get indicted for misuse of campaign funds for personal purposes and for tax evasion.

Penn goes on to explain that one of the violations that Cohen pleaded guilty for was for coordinating — not making — the America Media Inc. payment for Karen McDougal. “So he is pleading guilty over a corporate contribution he did not make,” Penn explains.

He writes:

“Think about this for a minute: Suppose ABC had paid Stormy Daniels for her story in coordination with Michael Avenatti or maybe even the Democratic National Committee’s law firm on the eve of the election; by this reasoning, if the purpose of this money paid, just before the election, would be to hurt Trump and help Clinton win, this payment would be a corporate political contribution. If using it not to get Trump would be a corporate contribution, then using it to get Trump also has to be a corporate contribution. That’s why neither are corporate contributions and this is a bogus approach to federal election law. (Note that none of the donors in the 2012 John Edwards case faced any legal issues and the Federal Election Commission [FEC] ruled their payments were not campaign contributions that had to be reported — facts that prosecutors tried to suppress at trial.)”

Of the payment to Stormy Daniels, Penn claims that because the payment was made on October 27— days before the campaign officially kicked off, “it would have never been reported before the election campaign and so, for all intents and purposes, was immaterial as it related to any effect on the campaign.”

“What’s clear in this plea deal is that, in exchange for overall leniency on his massive tax evasion, Cohen is pleading guilty to these other charges as an attempt to give prosecutors what they want — a Trump connection,” Penn writes.

Penn affirms that he believes the payment to Daniels may have been helpful to the campaign but is not a campaign expenditure. “Think of a candidate with bad teeth who had dental work done to look better for the campaign; his campaign still could not pay for it because it’s a personal expenditure,” he says.

“So, Trump spends $130,000 to keep the lid on a personal story and the full weight of state prosecutors comes down on his lawyer, tossing attorney-client privilege to the wind. Democrats spend potentially millions on secret opposition research and no serious criminal investigation occurs.”

Penn labels the plea deal as an example of “the double standards of justice” where “one investigation that gave Clinton aides and principals every benefit of the doubt and another investigation that targeted Trump people until they found unrelated crimes to use as leverage.”

“Donald Trump should do a better job of picking aides who pay their taxes — but he’s not responsible for their financial problems and crimes,” he writes.